Remembering the dead and missing in Florida condo collapse

SURFSIDE, Fla. (AP) — Authorities have identified four of the nine people confirmed to have died after the collapse of a 12-story beachfront condominium in Florida. About 150 others remained missing Sunday as rescuers painstakingly searched through the rubble of the Champlain Towers South. The Associated Press has been reporting brief descriptions of the victims.

The Miami-Dade Police Department said the dead include Stacie Dawn Fang, Manuel LaFont and Antonio and Gladys Lozano. The missing include Linda March, whose penthouse apartment was ripped apart, leaving her office chair next to the abyss; Elaine Sabino, a former baton twirler and flight attendant who stayed active as a belly dancer, and Claudio Bonnefoy, a second cousin of the former Chilean president.

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LINDA MARCH

Among the missing was Linda March, who eagerly traded a cramped New York apartment for fresh air and ocean views after surviving a COVID-19 infection. She even bought a bright pink bicycle to cruise around Miami with, best friend Rochelle Laufer said.

March rented Penthouse 4, and was using the second bedroom of the furnished apartment as her office, Laufer told The Associated Press on Sunday.

Thursday’s partial collapse of the condominium building left the penthouse’s interior exposed, with bunk beds and an office chair still intact just inside the broken edge where the rest of the 12-story structure crumbled into a pile of debris.

Another friend, Dawn Falco, said she had been talking on the phone with March until just two hours before the disaster. Falco said she immediately began searching for word on her friend, who she said never leaves the house “without a smile.”

“My heart is breaking as I see the office chair that she just purchased next to the bunkbeds,” Falco said.

Florida was a new start for the 58-year-old attorney. In the past decade, she’d lost her sister and mother to cancer, her father died a few years later and she and her husband divorced. She had no children.

“She would say to me, ‘I’m all alone. I don’t have family,’ and I would say, ‘You’re my sister, you don’t have to be born sisters. And I said you always have me,'” Laufer recounted through tears.

Laufer said March loved the ocean views but hated the incessant noise from nearby construction and had decided to break her lease. “She was looking for another apartment when this happened,” Laufer said sadly.

Still, Laufer had been planning to visit her friend this fall.

“I joked I’m going to take the top bunk when I visit,” she said.

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THE PATEL FAMILY

The missing include Vishal Patel, his wife, Bhavna, and their 1-year-old daughter. Bhavna Patel is four months pregnant.

Vishal Patel’s niece Sarina Patel told KABC-TV that she talked to her uncle on Father’s Day, telling him that she had bought a ticket to go see the couple and meet their child. Since the building’s collapse, her family has tried texting and calling, but hasn’t heard back, she said.

“We’re starting to prepare for the negative possibility, especially as the hours pass, but at the end of the day our family is very hopeful,” she said. “I just keep praying they have found a pocket somewhere where they were able to seek shelter and just waiting to be found.”

Sarina Patel said her aunt and uncle moved into the building two years ago. Her family is desperate for answers, she said.

“If they said they wanted volunteers, I would be on a plane and I would go start helping. Anything to make it go faster,” she told KABC. “Miracles do happen,” she said.

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JUDY SPIEGEL

Rachel Spiegel is still waiting for word on her mother, 66-year-old Judy Spiegel, who lived for her family and would go to any length to show her love. She had been swimming with her two granddaughters this month when one of them remarked how much she wanted a specific Disney princess dress.

The dress was sold out, Rachel said, but the doting grandmother immediately began hunting across several stores until she found it.

“She’s very thoughtful, she cared about the details,” a tearful Rachel told The Associated Press. “She was certainly the matriarch of our family.”

Her daughter joked that Judy was a terrible cook, but whenever anyone came to the house, she knew everyone’s favorite foods and quirks and made sure everything was perfectly arranged. She never went a night without her beloved Ben and Jerry’s chocolate ice cream, her daughter said.

She was also a passionate advocate for Holocaust awareness.

“My mom is an incredible person. She has the best heart and we need to find her.”

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ELAINE SABINO

Elaine Sabino, 70, treated others with the same care and kindness she displayed as a flight attendant for US Airways and JetBlue, her friend said.

“The main thing people know about Elaine is, she’s always there to give you a hand in everything you’re doing,” her friend, Shelly Angle, told the Miami Herald. “She was the ultimate hostess, on the airplane, everywhere.”

Sabino, who was in a penthouse on the 12th floor when the structure collapsed, is still missing.

Angle said her friend was staying active, and was an excellent jazz and belly dancer. Sabino graduated from the University of Florida, where she was a baton twirler on the Gatorette team. Later, she taught baton twirling and judged national competitions.

She had been complaining about construction on the roof of the condo building, her brother-in-law, Douglas Berdeaux, told The Washington Post. There has been no determination about what made the building crumble.

“She said she was worried that the ceiling was going to collapse on top of her bed,” he said.

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CLAUDIO and MARIA OBIAS BONNEFOY

The worried daughters of a Chilean man and his wife who lived on the 10th floor of Champlain Towers South arrived at the scene with growing anger over what they’re learning about problems with the building before it collapsed.

Sisters Anne Marie and Pascale Bonnefoy said their father Claudio Bonnefoy and his Filipino-American wife Maria Obias Bonnefoy had been spending little time in the apartment, and probably wouldn’t have been among the missing if not for the pandemic.

Bonnefoy, an 85-year-old lawyer, is the second cousin of former Chilean President and High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, and both he and his wife worked for international organizations, they said.

“We are just processing all this but this is starting to make me angry because reports from years ago reporting serious structural damage to the building are little by little being known,” said Pascale Bonnefoy. “Notifications that have been ignored, or even that the building was built on wetlands, that the construction was with sand and that the salt began to corrode the iron.”

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RICHARD AUGUSTINE

Richard Augustine, 77, was just hours away from a flight to Chicago, where his daughter, Debbie Hill, had planned to pick him up at the airport.

Instead, she watched video of the condo collapse, and could see her dad’s upper-floor unit plummeting, then disappearing in a cloud of dust.

“That was pretty scary to watch,” she told Chicago’s ABC7. “Immediately I tried to call him and his phone went straight to voicemail.”

Augustine had just visited his son in California, and went back to his Florida home to repack for the weekend visit with his daughter.

Augustine grew up in the Chicago area and lived in the suburbs before moving to Florida, where he worked in the air freight industry and planned to retire in the fall.

Hill told FOX32 in Chicago that her father shared the apartment with a roommate, who also was still missing.

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THE MORA FAMILY

Juan Mora Jr., who works for Morton Salt in Chicago, had been staying with his parents, Juan and Ana Mora, when the building collapsed.

Immigrants from Cuba and devout Catholics, they took their family on missionary trips to the Caribbean to build churches and bridges, said Jeanne Ugarte, a close friend of Ana’s. Later, they became like second parents to Juan Jr.’s friends in Chicago, where their son has managed East Coast distribution for Morton Salt’s road salt business, his friend Matthew Kaade said.

When the Moras came to visit, they would take all of Juan Jr.‘s friends out to dinner. In Florida, they introduced Kaade to Cuban coffee and food, he said. “They were the kind of people that even if someone says ‘I’m not hungry,’ they would just continue to order food to make sure you had a full belly,” he said.

Kaade, who graduated with Mora from Loyala University Chicago in 2011, said he texted this month saying he was planning to return to Chicago in early August.

“I was super excited to get him to come back,” said Kaade. He described Juan Jr., an avid Chicago Cubs fan, as genuine and someone his friends could always rely on “to be real and straight” with them.

No matter what happens, a group of friends will travel down to Florida — hopefully to celebrate with Juan Jr. and his family when they are found — but sure to celebrate him either way, because that’s what he would have wanted, Kaade said.

“No matter the outcome, it will be a celebration of his life,” he said. “I keep saying your story is not over. … I have hope that it will be Juan continuing his own story, but no matter what, I’ll be there to be one of the many to help carry it on,” he said.

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STACIE DAWN FANG

Stacie Dawn Fang, 54, was with her son Jonah Handler, a teenager, when the building collapsed. They lived on the tenth floor. The boy’s small hand waved through the wreckage as a man out walking his dog hurried to the site, climbed through a pile of glass and rebar and promised to get help right away.

Rescuers helped the boy out from under a pile of cement and carried him away on a stretcher to a hospital.

“There are no words to describe the tragic loss of our beloved Stacie,” members of her family said in a statement. “Many heartfelt words of encouragement and love have served as a much needed source of strength during this devastating time.”

Asked about the boy’s condition, a family friend, Lisa Mozloom told the AP “He will be fine. He’s a miracle.”

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MANUEL LAFONT

Manuel LaFont, 54, was a proud father, a baseball fan and a business consultant who lived on the building’s eighth floor. He had a 10-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter with his ex-wife Adriana LaFont, the Miami Herald reported.

Adriana asked her friends on Facebook to pray the rosary for Manny before his body was found. “So many memories inside the walls that are no more today, forever engraved experiences in the heart,” she wrote.

LaFont, a Houston native, coached his son’s baseball team, the Astros, at North Shore Park, just a mile away from the Champlain. He was a parishioner at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Miami Beach. The parish’s school parents gathered Saturday afternoon to pray for LaFont and his neighbors who were still missing.

An alumnus of Sharpstown High School in Houston, LaFont had worked across Latin America and the Caribbean for a manufacturing firm, leading a division focusing on roadway safety that built crash cushions and moveable barriers, the Herald reported.

“I got into this industry specifically because I don’t want to sell widgets. I want to help people. I want to do something good in this world,” he said at an industry conference in 2016. “When I die, I want to say that my life meant something.”

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ANTONIO AND GLADYS LOZANO

Antonio and Gladys Lozano lived on the ninth floor. The two had known each other over 60 years and would have celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary on July 21.

Their sons told WPLG-TV that the couple had joked neither wanted to die before the other, because neither wanted to live without the other. Their one solace, the brothers said, was that they were together when they died.

Authorities confirmed on Saturday that Antonio, 83, and Gladys, 79, were among the dead.

Sergio Lozano said he had dinner with his parents hours before the collapse. He lived in one of the towers of the complex and could see his parents’ apartment across the way from his. That night, he said the heard a loud noise they thought could be a storm.

“The building is not there,” he said he told his wife. “My parents’ apartment is not there. It’s gone.”

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Michael Tarm reported from Chicago.

Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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